The president’s budget keeps NASA on its current trajectory, with an $18.5 billion top-line number and an all-systems-go approach on such key, high-cost initiatives as the Orion crew capsule and the Space Launch System rocket, both of which are still under development, and the James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled for a 2018 launch.
The budget also includes $1.2 billion for the Commercial Crew program. NASA has awarded contracts to Boeing and SpaceX to take astronauts to the International Space Station using newly designed “commercial” spacecraft that will finally return launch capability to U.S. soil after many years in which the United States, having retired the shuttle, had to depend on the Russians to get Americans into space. This significant investment in that program brings the taxi-to-orbit concept a step closer to reality.
Also still funded: NASA’s controversial Asteroid Redirect Mission, an elaborate endeavor that would use a robotic probe to haul a small asteroid out of its natural orbit around the sun and into an orbit around the moon. There — if all goes as planned — the rock would be visited, sometime in the 2020s, by astronauts aboard Orion in one of the first missions of that new capsule. Politically the mission is fraught because it is closely associated with Obama — who nixed his predecessor’s plan to put astronauts back on the moon — and has been the target of steady opposition from congressional Republicans.
The budget includes $5.3 billion in funding for space science. That will go toward the next rover on Mars, as well as toward the development of a robotic mission to Europa, the moon of Jupiter that has long intrigued scientists because it shows signs of a subsurface ocean.